South China Sea territorial disputes
Chinese dredging vessels have been seen around Mischief Reef, part of the disputed Spratly Islands, in the South China SeaHandout/Reuters file photo

Chinese naval forces have begun a 10-day drill in the disputed parts of the South China Sea warning other countries not to enter the region until the war games are over.

The exercise is taking place at a time when China is embroiled in a bitter row with multiple countries in the region over claims to islands and reefs.

"No vessel is allowed to enter the designated maritime areas," according to a statement released by China's Maritime Safety Administration, reported the China Daily.

The drill is intended to improve the defence capability of the Chinese naval forces, Beijing says. According to the state-controlled CCTV, "Bison Class" amphibious hovercrafts have been deployed as part of the exercise.

Chinese officials have denied the latest drill has any connection to the ongoing disputes in the South China Sea.

"For people with military knowledge, they'd certainly know that a military drill of this scale will take at least three to four months of preparation, or maybe even longer. Dozens of projects will be done during the training to test the navy's tactics and weapons," Major General Zhu Chenghu, a professor at the National Defence University of the People's Liberation Army, was quoted as saying.

"Of course, no country will conduct military training without any purpose. But this time there is no evidence to subjectively link an ordinary drill to a third party."

The archipelago comprising about 750 islands and reefs is believed to be rich in oil and gas resources. The chain of islands has become the centre of an international dispute in recent years with China claiming almost the entire region.

"The Diaoyu islands [known as Senkaku in Japan] have belonged to China since ancient times ... China will continue to take necessary measures to safeguard its territorial sovereignty and Japan should not hold any unrealistic illusions," said Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Lu Kang earlier.

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